AIK midfielder Kenny Pavey has won the hearts of his fans, while Sweden has claimed his.
When Kenny Pavey walked onto the pitch at Rasunda Stadium April 27, 2006 to play in his first derby match, it was the culmination of a lifetime of childhood fantasies.
“Even as a kid I always dreamed of playing in front of 35,000 people,” the AIK midfielder said. “I got an award my first year with my first club Athenly. I got player of the year and top goal scorer so they invented an award they never gave before: Most Likely to Become a Professional. From that moment, it was just a matter of time. I’ve always felt like I was meant to be a football player.”
Pavey is now a mainstay at AIK, where his versatility and instinctive British style quickly made him a fan favorite. Although only in his fourth season with the club, the Englishman is very much the team’s standard-bearer.
“I didn’t know what to expect when I came to AIK,” Pavey said. “I knew it was a big club, but beyond that, I only knew about AIK from playing against them. Then I came here, and now I can honestly say my heart is really with AIK.”
Pavey instantly won over the Gnaget’s hard-to-impress fans with his win-or-die style on the field and his dedication to and understanding of the AIK fan base, fans that have a less-than stellar reputation.
“Everything here is about the fans,” Pavey said. “The club has a very English feel. There is an air around AIK that is different from other teams. I think it attracts more supporters. If there is a rough side, I think it’s up to the individual fan to decide what he wants to do, but that rough side is what makes AIK attractive. We’re not a suit-and-tie club.”
AIK was in third place in the standings following a 1-0 July 13 against first-place IFK Goteborg. Pavey played nearly the full 90 minutes, leaving the match when he received a red card for a tackle in the waning seconds of the match.
“It really wasn’t a bad tackle,” Pavey said. “I was coming at speed and I think the speed made it look worse than it was.”
While he may miss up to three matches because of the tackle, it is exactly that style of play — the traditional “get your foot in there” style of British football — that makes Pavey such a favorite.
“He brings a passion like no other for football on to the pitch,” said AIK goalkeeper coach Lee Baxter. “When he steps onto Råsunda the fans go crazy. They absolutely love him.”
Arguably the best trait Pavey brings is in the locker room. Even the ebullient Londoner admits Swedish players can be somewhat reserved. Pavey usually finds himself in the role of catalyst when it comes to team spirit.
“I can make players react,” he said. “I can lift them with something I say or with my work rate. I like to think I can lift my teammates. I do my job but I also encourage my teammates. I am part of the team and at the same time, I know how to be my own person.”
How he came to be a pro in Sweden was something Pavey didn’t see in those childhood dreams. The 29-year-old London native grew up idolizing Millwall, a working-class team in a blue-collar neighborhood. He signed with Affenley as a schoolboy with an eye toward eventually playing for Millwall. When playing time didn’t materialize, he signed with non-League Sittingbourne FC, which “paid really good wages for a non-league club,” Pavey said.
The speedy winger excelled at Sittingbourne, opening eyes with his blazing runs and quick touch. By 1998, the then-19-year-old Pavey appeared destined for Aston Villa and the English Premier League. That’s when fate — and Swedish football — intervened.
“Sittingbourne had a lot of debt from all the wages they were paying and they had all these old players they couldn’t unload, so they were looking to me to solve their problems,” Pavey said. “I don’t know how much they were asking for me, but Villa refused.”
The botched deal left Pavey in a quandary. He quit Sittingbourne and was essentially without a club until a friend suggested he look for football opportunities abroad.
“At first I was thinking Spain or Italy and I thought, ‘Yeah, I could with that,” Pavey said.
Rather than the warmth of Mediterranean football, however, the somewhat cooler clime of Sweden beckoned.
“To be honest, I really never thought of playing in Sweden,” Pavey said. “When my friend suggested it, I wasn’t sure what to expect.”
Still, Pavey decided to trade the bright lights of London, population 8 million, for the sleepy resort town of Ljungskile, population 3,345.
“It was like coming to a different planet,” he said. When he moved to Stockholm, however, he felt right at home.
“Stockholm is a great city. I tell everybody that,” he said. “I really don’t understand why more people don’t come here. When I lived in Ljungskile it was a lot different. The people there were a little different than in Stockholm, but I love it here. The food is wonderful, the sense of humor is almost the same as England and the people have the same, good family values. I really love it here.”
Pavey turns 30 in August, although he shows no signs of slowing down. He said he would like to remain at AIK when his contract expires, but also said he realizes club management is always looking for new, young talent. No matter what happens come December, the Englishman said he plans to continue playing.
“It’s an honor to be a professional football player and I appreciate it,” Pavey said. “Call it a gift from above or a gift from your parents or whatever, you have to appreciate it. I’ve been a roofer, a painter, even a messenger so I’ve seen it from both sides. I’m very happy to be a football player.”
Where’s Kenny? By Chipp Reid
Anytime AIK head coach Andreas Alm makes out his lineup, there is one player he knows will always be ready. The only question Kenny Pavey has for his manager is just where he might be on the field.
“I’m most comfortable at right midfield, playing like a winger, but that doesn’t mean I’m going to be there,” Pavey said. “I guess I have shifted around a bit.”
Make that a lot.
Pavey, who joined AIK before the 2006 season, has played every position on the field except goalkeeper. AIK fans learned quickly to scan for the Englishman’s No. 14 jersey rather than look for him in a particular spot on the field.
“I like to think being versatile makes me a better player,” Pavey said. “Each manager has a different way of playing. If we’re playing in a 4-4-2 (four defender, four midfielders and two strikers) then I play one role, but if we’re playing a 4-3-3, it might mean I have to be more offensive or more defensive.”
Still, moving around the field can have its drawbacks. Pavey has gone from being a striker to being a defender in successive matches. Despite the apparent jarring change, Pavey remains unfazed.
“I’ve been in the game for a while and I know the basic rules for certain positions,” he said. “If anything, it’s made my football credentials stronger. I can put down that I can play any number of positions. If there are any injuries, then I can slip into different positions.”
That versatility has made Pavey AIK’s most necessary player.
“Well, put it this way, when you have a lot of games in a tight period like we’ve had now, you need players that you can count on,” said AIK assistant coach Lee Baxter. “Kenny is definitely in that category.”
Pavey is one of two English players currently toiling in the Allsvenskan. Striker James Keene plays for Elfsborg. Together, the two Englishmen are trying to open doors for young British players.
“I’m almost shocked there aren’t more English players here,” Pavey said. “The only thing in my view that’s preventing it is English boys can probably earn better money playing at lower levels than they could in the Allsvenskan and that’s a real shame.”
Since Pavey arrived at AIK, the Gnaget have signed Kevin Walker, a 20-year-old midfielder from Ireland. Sweden is already a proving ground – and door into Europe – for many Latin American and African players. Pavey said he would like to “open the window” in Swedish football to more British players.
“I think it’s actually a more natural fit,” Pavey said. “You don’t have as much of the culture shock or climate adjustment with an English as you might have with a Brazilian. Plus, the English game and Swedish game are very similar.”
Pavey when he finally decides to hang up his boots he would like “open the window more and help English players come to Sweden. I think it would definitely be good for Swedish football.”
Until then, Pavey will take his place on the field for AIK. Even if he isn’t sure just where on the field he might play, it doesn’t matter to the London native, just so long as he plays.
Kenny Pavey celebrates a goal. The London native is a favorite with AIK's hard-to-please fans. Bildbyran photo.